EARLY ACCESS: Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

The newest addition to the iconic Trine-series has recently been released as early-access and is, once again, a visually engrossing masterpiece with beautiful graphics, luminous lighting and stunning bloom effects. Unlike the rather subtle transition between the two prequels, Trine 3: Artifacts of Power has advanced significantly and developer Frozenbyte now invites the player to a fully interactive 3D-world within the Trine-universe.

The player must once more lead the three delightfully unique and charming characters through a fairy-tale world of mysteries and cleverly designed puzzles packed with dangerous traps and monsters. Each character, a wizard, a knight and thief, have their own identities with unique abilities, movement and controls. All of which must be mastered and used correctly to complete the levels. The player may switch freely between the three characters depending on the task at hand – something which proves an interesting game mechanic.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

Trine’s visuals are truly unique and extremely appealing. It was hard to find the best screenshots (yes, these are actual gameplay screenshots), so if you are interested I’d recommend to check the trailer.

It is important to stress that this preview is done in a relatively early stage of the early-access process. This means that the player is more likely to encounter a few bugs (none entirely game breaking, however) and that there’s room for tweaks and changes as the development is ongoing. Despite being in early-access, the overall experience of the current content does feel rather complete. The three characters still maintain the same abilities, movements and controls remain, for the most part, the same as well. This makes players of the previous games feel at home immediately – almost as if your game session is merely a continuation from the previous two.

Players unfamiliar with the series will, too, soon feel at home. The controls and game mechanics are relatively easy to learn, but does introduce a few challenging puzzles. It is too early to firmly conclude the overall difficulty as there’s only three levels available, but much indicates it’ll be similar to the previous ones and thus be a fine balance between challenging and easy puzzles. The soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen (the guy who created the soundtrack for the prequels as well) moreover never cease to amaze, and does a great job accompanying the atmospheric levels.

The three characters are wonderfully portrayed and invites to a giggle or two through great voice-acting. The characters moreover each play a vital part in completing any level due to their unique abilities.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power is without a doubt looking very promising, and with a dedicated developer it’s only a matter of time before the game is fully released. Those looking for a platformer or simply a game with stunning visuals will thus undeniably enjoy Trine 3 immensely.

Buy Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/319910/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

BLACKHOLE – Mind-bending space adventure

Welcome to the year of 2121.

Science has progressed enormously, and mankind is now in possession of technology allowing them to effectively protect Earth from the dangers in space. You find yourself on a spaceship on such a mission – in fact a quite special one set out to close the last remaining black hole. The crew consists of seasoned astronauts and a highly sophisticated, GLaDOS-like AI, Ariel. Why you are here is an entirely different matter. You are not a seasoned astronaut, and the others would rather not have you here. You’ve thus been assigned to the coffee-machine with the noble cause of providing the crew with freshly brewed coffee whenever needed. A task which you miraculously manage to screw up, repeatedly. However, before there’s any time to delve with yet another of your numerous mistakes, the ship’s alarm starts. Something has gone dreadfully wrong, and panic quickly ensues. The crew has accidentally steered the ship onto an inevitable path towards total destruction. What a morning!

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The player must explore the richly detailed planet Entity in an attempt to scavenge parts to repair the spaceship and locate potential survivors.

It would have been naïve to fight the black hole’s immense powers, and the crew must, although reluctantly, accept their faith. And sure enough, the ship crashes into the planet-like world, Entity, seconds later. At first glance, no crew-members appeared to have survived beyond Auriel. Yet, for reasons unknown, you somehow managed to survive the horrendous crash and crawl your way through the remains – much to Auriel’s surprise. After the dust has settled, you and Auriel must now find your way through the alien planet on a mission to scavenge materials for reparations and rescue any fellow crew members whom might have survived the crash.

With the story set, many would find it hard to believe that BLACKHOLE indeed is a platformer. There’s no doubt that the game is  a platformer, but it manages to stand out on several factors. The game features an interesting and unique setting accompanied with a great sense of story-progression. The latter is largely achieved by exquisite voice-acting, which especially shines through from the intriguing AI, Auriel, and her constant chatter. The hand-painted 2D-world is moreover beautifully designed and delightfully accompanied by a great soundtrack.

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The game is full HD and performs at a steady 50 frames per second – even on low-end machines. The smooth gameplay is greatly accompanied by responsive controls.

With the story, world design and voice-over in place, the next step is the actual gameplay. A good gameplay, and especially in a platformer, requires solid and responsive controls as well as a challenging and preferably non-repetitive maps. BLACKHOLE very much manages all of this, and does so in a way which appeals to a surprisingly wide audience. The latter, for instance, is achieved by allowing players to advance through levels with a bare minimum of required objectives and unlimited time. The option to complete things with ease should be put in perspective, though. There’s no mercy and players will die repeatedly and grow increasingly frustrated with several levels, but they can decide to continue without completing everything. This, of course, means that players looking for an extra challenge does not have to look far.

Onto the actual gameplay. BLACKHOLE consists of a range of different puzzles which all requires the player to think creatively. The main aspect of this is altering the gravity in order to avoid obstacles. Inspired by VVVVVV, gravity needs to be altered more than once just to complete one objective. In addition to swapping gravity repeatedly, the player must not only reach the objective(s), but also safely return to the start-portal to complete the level. The beauty if this is that whilst the mechanics are simple, and whilst the player can progress with just a few objectives completed, every single map is a challenge and genuinely enjoyable.

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Entity might be pretty, but is most certainly also dangerous.

The longer you play BLACKHOLE, the more you realize and appreciate the genuine dedication and keen eye to detail throughout the game. It is evident that the developers, artists and musicians wanted to deliver a unique and challenging game. The fact that ongoing support the next six months with additional levels and content for free has been announced already merely stresses the true dedication.

It is your time to become a hero and survive the dangers within the black hole.

Buy BLACKHOLE on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/322680/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

EARLY ACCESS: Enter the Darkest Dungeon

The darkness is growing ferociously as you cautiously take yet another step into the unknown and sacred ruins. You have lost track of place and time, and supplies are running low. In fact, the last torch has just burned out, and visibility as well as morale and courage has diminished beneath what you considered sanely possible. Yet you cannot abandon the mission. You have gone through too much. You have sacrificed too much and too many.

Your team was flawed. You are flawed, but yet you and your team managed to leave relentless battles against twisted and unimaginable bizarre foes alive – although mentally vulnerable and heavily affected by the increasing psychological stress and paranoia. You are verging on a mental breakdown, and struggle to stop your natural survival instincts of abandoning your team and your mission, but you manage to find the last bit of courage, the last bit of hope, and take yet another step. The darkness thirstily inhales your fears as you approach the next door…

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Darkest Dungeon features an astonishing hand-drawn atmosphere.

The roguelike-genre has experienced a major renaissance the past few years with hundreds of games released last year alone, and every so often, a game stands out. This is one of them. This is Darkest Dungeon, a challenging roguelike turn-based RPG with innovative and highly intriguing game mechanics by developer Red Hook. It is hard to properly compare the game to others, but in all its essence, Darkest Dungeon remains a visually stunning dungeon-crawler similar to games such as Legends of Grimrock, but with clever and very innovative game mechanics.

The player must lead a team of four flawed heroes through twisted forests, crypts and ruins (the game currently has three completed dungeons, but more dungeons have been announced). Unlike traditional RPG games, all heroes experience psychological pressure as well as their subsequent side effects. The system does not necessarily interfere with the progression nor development however, but when the stress-factor becomes too high it will heavily affect the heroes. Whilst most side-effects are negative and mostly temporary, some effects are positive and will benefit the hero through all future endeavours. Character progression and development thus largely depends on the outcome of the psychological-dice roll.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Players will moreover manage a small village which functions as your party’s headquarters. The various buildings allow the heroes to reduce their stress through either drinking, gambling, medieval treatment, prayer or meditation. Though, every stress-reducing activity is expensive and with the party heavily relying on gear (torches, rations, medicine and bandages) for the next mission it becomes a matter of priorities. Additionally, players need money to fund the heroes’ personal equipment and skills. The many needs for money ultimately encourages the player to take further risks in an attempt to obtain more gold to secure further adventuring.

Darkest Dungeon is still – perhaps quite surprising – in early-access despite feeling like a near-complete game. The graphics and atmosphere is stunning and engrossing, the narration and voice acting is well-made and the gameplay feels reasonably balanced. The combat system is turn-based and heavily relies on positioning and picking the right heroes, skills and items. Failing to do so properly results in a brutal death which due to the roguelike-elements means, worst case scenario, permanently lost heroes (though, the player may abandon a mission, but doing so generates no gold to cover the restoration of the remaining heroes’ physical and mental health). With an announced six months of early-access-mode and dedicated developers, the game is bound to receive plenty of updates which only strengthens this recommendation.

Buy Darkest Dungeon (EARLY ACCESS) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/262060/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

PREVIEW: Majestic Nights

Conspiracy theories are not always just conspiracy theories. Sometimes there’s simply something which (or whom) cannot be denied existence – especially not if you have witnessed everything. Or have you? In fact you are not really sure, but everyone around you seems to believe you did. So perhaps you really did – working as an intelligence operative deep undercover and constantly living in the shadows can’t be healthy. No, you need to know for certain that what has been seen cannot be unseen.

And with that, welcome to Majestic Nights.

Majestic Nights

Introducing Majestic Nights – an episodic role-playing-thriller set in an alternate 1980s where all conspiracy theories, past and present, are true.

Set in the 80’s bright, lively and colorful world, the six darkest and most controversial conspiracies through the last 50 years are about to slowly become unwrapped and revealed – all from experiments with mind control and alien abductions to government hoaxes. Indeed, Majestic Nights has been announced to be released in six standalone chapters, excluding the seventh and free prologue Sunset After Dark, all covering one of the six aforementioned conspiracy theories. A season pass allowing access to all episodes once released will moreover become available – though each episode may be purchased individually for a small price.

Gameplay-wise through the roughly 30-40 minutes the prologue takes, it is evident that Majestic Nights is an intriguing mix of stealth, interrogation and action-packed shootouts. Worth noting, however, is that if the protagonist is spotted by enemies, the game will enter a slow-motion mode which significantly reduces the excitement regardless of difficulty. Though, ignoring stiff movement and what at times feels like unresponsive, or slow, controls, the gameplay from a game still in development feels solid. Furthermore, Australian developer Epiphany Games has assured me that several improvements and tweaks (likely addressing the above) will be implemented accordingly prior to launch.

Majestic Nights

You may decide to walk the shadows and avoid direct shootouts, or play by the motto: There’s no one to notice, if there’s no one to notice. A melee-option has moreover been confirmed, something which only adds to the stealth-play.

Another aspect worth noting is the three difficulty-levels, and unfortunately, after having played through all options, there seem to be little-to-no difference between either. Significant differences such as limited or reduced ammunition, reduced cover time, reduced running, no indicator around story-related elements or similar between the difficulty-levels would be very welcome. It is important to stress that the vast majority of players will enjoy the story regardless of difficulty, but those who seek a challenge whilst following an intriguing story would appreciate this.

The visual design of Majestic Nights seems – at first glance – to be a mix of respectively Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us. This means comic-like drawings from an unusual and unique color palette which isn’t afraid of bright colours. The lightning effects when caught is moreover a nice twist and most unique. Admittedly this art style won’t please everyone, but it suits the overall environment and story nicely.

Depending on the player's choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Depending on the player’s choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Overall Majestic Nights seeks to offer a unique perspective on conspiracy theories – an interesting subject which allows for many options. It will be interesting to see how the actual chapters will unfold, but with the right tweaks and fixes together with a firm focus on delivering an intriguing story, Majestic Nights will likely turn majestic.

Pre-order Majestic Nights on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/284140

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

A simple hero with great ethics

As the silence gradually gets filled by creeping and submerged ambient sounds, and as a bright divine-like light slowly emerges in a atmospheric monochrome world surrounded by black silhouettes, you know Hero of Many by Czech-developer Trickster Arts isn’t your ordinary action-adventure game. Without further ado, and followed by a simple, wordless and very powerful opening-cutscene, the player is introduced to the charming world of Hero of Many.

The simplicity of the game experienced in the first few minutes of gameplay is stunning – yet genius and immersive. The player takes the role as a nameless and thus anonymous (this aspect is very interesting upon analyzing the game’s story!) orb-like microorganism on a quest to defeat lethal black counterparts whilst rescuing as many friends as possible.

The silhouettes - seemingly inspired by games like Limbo - are extremely simple but manages to charm and engross players.

The silhouettes – seemingly inspired by games like Limbo – is an extremely detailed world-design (despite the lack of colours and depth) which manages to charm and engross the player.

In good accordance with the wordless story, there is no way of telling which way is the correct way through any of the 26 different maze-like maps. Players may only navigate using their memory, or by the guidance of carefully placed lanterns which gets activated once passed. However, as there is no time limit, exploration immediately becomes the natural first priority. By exploring all caves and corridors the player furthermore ensures to find close-to-all friends – the more friends you collect, the stronger (and exposed) you become.

Whilst the environment may appear peaceful and to a certain degree divine with the ambient sounds and bright light, dangers will suddenly emerge and instantly turn the gameplay into a matter of surviving and guiding your friends wisely and efficiently. Approaching enemies may moreover be done in several ways – a full-scale attack or slowly by luring and taking them out one by one or in smaller groups and thus decrease own losses. However, whilst the initial attack may be launched as the player pleases, the actual battle is automatic and cannot be controlled by the player.

The background colour and enemies gradually  changes and advances as the player progresses through the maps.

The background colour and enemy-force gradually changes and advances as the player progresses through the maps.

very impressive aspect to Hero of Many is the dynamic soundtrack – especially considering the fact that it is a ported-game (something which only the initial interface hints, by the way). In terms of quality, the music is comparable to several high-budget titles and follows the gameplay in perfect order – all from soothing and melodic to intense and motivational battle-music.

However, beyond exploration and semi-automatic battles, the gameplay is somewhat limited as the puzzles presented are extremely simple and straightforward. Instead it becomes a question of keeping as many friends alive by timing the attacks accordingly and exploring everything. This is a minor set-back, but the immersive atmosphere mixed with the great soundtrack makes up for the lack of game mechanics – Hero of Many essentially becomes a story which the player writes and interprets in their own, unique way.

Exploration has several positive effects beyond increasing your army of friends - for instance special energy-berries may be eaten to increase your friends' health and strength.

Exploration has several positive effects beyond increasing your army of friends – for instance, special berries (often hidden in deserted areas) may be eaten to increase your friends’ health and strength.

Hero of Many is an atmospheric-action adventure set in a deep undersea and monochrome world with an immersive design. Packed with friends and foes, exploration and survival becomes a natural aspect of the game, and without words or back-story, the player is allowed and encouraged to create their own story and follow their own paths.

Buy Hero of Many on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/297370/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Kairo – where am I?

If the words minimalistic abstraction ever had to be used to describe a game, then Kairo, developed by British Richard Perrin, would be the most appropriate game. I originally purchased and installed the game without quite knowing what to expect – or what not to expect for that matter. Kairo starts in medias res; something which naturally leaves the player with a fair amount of uncertainty and second-guesses as to what they are meant to do. Unlike most other games however, the uncertainty gradually increases as you progress through the first few stages of the game – a very unusual, yet intriguing, experience. Unfortunately this also represents the barrier where players either decide to delve into this unique and captivating piece of content, or quit. It is important to stress that Kairo is not like any other game – and it may even be discussed whether labelling as it as puzzle exploration rather than game is more appropriate.

Kairo is in truth an atmospheric-puzzle game.

Kairo is in truth an atmospheric-puzzle game.

The fact that Kairo manages to distance itself from most other games within the first few minutes of gameplay is an accomplishment alone though, and perhaps the word distinct is a keyword when it comes to describing the game as a whole. There is no tutorial, no introduction to the story and no explanation to why you find yourself on top of an ancient stone construction. Alone.

The exploration begins psychedelically as you wander into thin air in an adventurous attempt to make it to the next construction. It is evident that exploration indeed is a big part of Kairo – both to complete the individual rooms, but also to locate the correct path(s). It moreover turns out that mastering scrutinizing for close to every sub-dimensional room is crucial and highly rewarding as players will find hidden runes and unlock achievements for collecting these.

Each new room has its own story and sacred mysteries.

Each new room has its own story and sacred mysteries.

In good accordance with the first few minutes of gameplay, the following puzzles presented to the player drastically increases in difficulty – to the point where taking breaks might become necessary. There are a few, fairly straightforward puzzles, but a majority of brainteasing and frustrating puzzles which, without a guide, can take a very long time to solve and requires a very good eye for details – solving these on your own does yield a certain sense of accomplishment and ignites motivation to continue though. This ultimately means that players looking for a casual puzzler will have to look elsewhere – Kairo is hardcore and does not reveal much, if anything at all. This, on the other hand, is a very positive thing when addressing the elite of puzzle-gamers.

As more rooms are unlocked and more puzzles are solved, the player starts to wonder what the purpose of Kairo is, not to mention what Kairo itself is –  if anything at all. It is evident that the player is reactivating – and sometimes literally fixing – ancient mechanisms within the ruins. At times short glimpses of modern- and present-times are shown, which yet again questions the story. Is Kairo a new beginning, or is it a desperate attempt to fix what has been lost and destroyed – or something completely else?

Most rooms have their own unique colour - but all rooms are installed with the same noise-layer.

All rooms have their own unique colour – but all rooms are installed with the same noise(/blurry)-layer.

All rooms are different – and those which requires a re-visit will change to a new colour every time. This empathizes how each room serves its own purpose, has its own (secret) story and function – it moreover means that each room is unique despite being a fully integrated part of every other room. However, while being in one room it is impossible to see any other room – or anything outside that specific room at all. The rooms are thus representing shattered memories, and the player is meant to collect these accordingly in order to figure out what really happened and why – something which greatly depends on the player’s own interpretation.

Every room has its own, unique function and story, but connecting them all seems to be the greatest puzzle.

Kairo is not a game for everyone, and it is a game which requires determination and a genuine interest in solving brainteasing puzzles. The environment and story (or, rather, lack of story given your point of view) can be very appealing, but that alone is not a reason to purchase and enjoy the game. A strong interest in puzzles is essential, but if a genuine interest is present then Kairo does offer some extremely complex, unique and intriguing puzzles which, without a guide, easily can take longer than eight hours to complete. Kairo is thus strongly recommendable for those seeking a unique and brainteasing puzzler with an interesting plot, but should be avoided by those who prefer more traditional puzzle-games.

Buy Kairo on Steam here:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/233230/

Buy Kairo from the developer’s website here:
http://kairo.lockeddoorpuzzle.com/